Piero della Francesca

Piero della Francesca was born in Sansepolcro, province of Arezzo, around 1412 to Benedetto de’ Franceschi, a merchant from Biturgia, and Romana di Perino from nearby Monterchi. In the 1420s he served his apprenticeship in the workshop of Antonio di Anghiari. In the early 1430s, the first commissions arrived. After leaving the master’s workshop, he moved to Florence, where he entered the workshop of Domenico Veneziano.

The “Madonna and Child”, formerly in the Contini Bonacossi Collection and now in a private collection, is dated 1435-1438 and represents Piero’s first known work.

In 1439, he is documented alongside the Venetian in the chapel of Sant’Egidio in the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, where he frescoed the lost “Stories of the Virgin”. In the same year, the Council of Florence took place with the meeting between Pope Eugene IV and the Emperor of the East, John VIII Paleologus, an event that was to remain etched in the artist’s mind.

In 1442, the painter returned to Sansepolcro, where he opened his workshop, and possibly carried out the “Baptism of Christ”, now in the National Gallery in London, although the dating of the work is controversial. Some anticipate it to 1439 due to the presence of Byzantine dignitaries seen at the council that was supposed to reunite the Western Church with the Eastern Church, others postpone it to 1460.

He received the commission for the “Polyptych of the Misericordia” for the Church of the Confraternity of Misercordia in Sansepolcro in 1445, but the work was not completed until 1462 due to his many commitments. Also in 1445 he was in Ferrara, where he was called to work by Borso d’Este. He also made a short stay in Rimini. In 1447 he is documented in Loreto, Urbino and Ancona, after which, in 1450, he painted the “Saint Jerome in Penitence”, now in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, and the “Saint Jerome and the Donor Girolamo Amadi”, now in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice. In 1451, he was in Rimini where he painted the frescoes in the Malatesta Temple.

1452 is a fundamental year. The painter was in fact called to Arezzo to continue the frescoes begun in the Bacci Chapel of the Basilica of San Francesco. In the main chapel of the church, Piero painted the “Legend of the True Cross” on several occasions between 1452 and 1466, a cycle considered one of the greatest pictorial masterpieces of all times.

The “Flagellation of Christ” in the National Gallery of the Marche dated 1453-58, the fresco of “Saint Julian” and the “Polyptych of Saint Augustine”, from the former Church of Sant’Agostino in Sansepolcro, painted between 1454 and 1458, and the extraordinary “Madonna del Parto”, painted between 1455 and 1458 for the Church of Santa Maria a Momentana in Monterchi, belong to the same years as the undertaking in Arezzo. Between 1458 and 1459, the artist moved to Rome for a short period, where he worked on lost frescoes for Pope Pius II.

After his return he painted the stupendous “Saint Mary Magdalen” in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Donato in Arezzo, painted around 1459-60, the “Saint Louis of Toulouse” frescoed around 1460 in the Palazzo Pretorio in Sansepolcro and above all the grandiose “Resurrection” frescoed between 1460 and 1463 for the Palazzo della Residenza dei Conservatori, the seat of the city government, one of the most representative works of the 15th century.

In 1464 he was back in Arezzo to finish the cycle of frescoes and around that year he completed “Hercules” for Sansepolcro, now in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

In 1468 he finished the “Polyptych of St. Anthony” for the Convent of St. Anthony in Perugia and the following year he returned to Urbino, called by Federico di Montefeltro, who commissioned some of his most famous works. In 1472 he painted the “Portraits of the Dukes of Urbino” preserved in the Uffizi in Florence, in 1474 he finished the “Pala Montefeltro”, now in the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, in 1478 it was the turn of the “Madonna di Senigallia” in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche.

In 1479 he returned to his hometown and devoted the final part of his life to his most famous works. The “De prospectiva pingendi” dates from 1480 and the De quinque corporibus regularibus” from 1485.

On 12 October 1492, he died in Sansepolcro and was buried in the Badia di San Giovanni Evangelista.

Some of the most famous works

Piero della Francesca, Ritratti dei duchi di Urbino (1473-1475; olio su tavola, 47 x 33 cm ciascuno; Firenze, Uffizi

Piero della Francesca, La Leggenda della Vera Croce: Battaglia tra Eraclio e Cosroe, particolare (1452-1466; affresco, 329 x 747 cm; Arezzo, Basilica di San Francesco

Piero della Francesca, Pala Montefeltro (1472-1474; olio e tempera su tavola, 248 x 170 cm; Milano, Pinacoteca di Brera